What Is "Affluenza"?
While the term "affluenza" has been around since the seventies and Americans have had a love/hate relationship with materialism since the first Europeans arrived looking for trade routes and gold ( those who came after were searching for a simpler life), it has never been a more relevant topic.
It just so happened that I was at the Oxford Round Table Symposium held at Oxford University in England where I was a guest speaker there to do a presentation on the topic of "affluenza" when the college admission's scandal broke. My first thought... well, there's "affluenza" at its best.
Originally the term, a portmanteau of affluence and influenza, referred to a sickness afflicting the American upper classes that resulted in feelings of isolation and depression, a relentless quest for money and possessions, and a failure to accept responsibility for one's actions. The symptoms are no longer limited to the upper classes of the U.S. but can be seen across socio-economic classes and throughout the world.
The pursuit of wealth and the status that it brings has been correlated to higher rates of depression and anxiety especially among teens and millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996),
As an educator and parent coach, I am well aware of the concern of parents, especially those with wealth or those whose families are exposed to lifestyles of the affluent. Money is neutral, not good or bad. Where the problems begin are when one's attitude toward money negatively affect how they feel about themselves or others.
Here are several suggestions for how to innoculate your children to this social disease:
Commit to family time. Let your children know that they are valued for who they are, not for their academic or athletic success.
Develop a values system that emphasizes what you do not what you own. Communicate and model your values. Talk to your children about the value of money, hard work, and responsibility. Praise what requires effort.
Help your children develop empathy. Model the "golden rule" and altruism. Find meaningful community service activities for you and your family.
Admit mistakes and let your children know that you love and accept them unconditionally while being honest about your disapproval so that they will learn right from wrong. Combine love and limits.
Clearly, the parent's who were cheating in order for their children to gain admission to prestigious universities were not acting on the above guidelines.
There has been a lot written about their outrageous acts in the last week, but none struck me in a more profound way than this comment from a someone named Kathy posted in the New York Times:
"My parents both attended Stanford and made modest donations over the years. I applied (mid-eighties), and wasn't admitted because I didn't deserve to be - I didn't have the grades. They were furious; they'd expected the legacy system to work. I knew I didn't earn it and was secretly relieved, but also saddened by their attitude. It wasn't about me; they wanted bragging rights and to have their pedigree stamped and verified. That other students had excelled and deserved to be admitted didn't seem to matter to them. Entitlement. Ugh. As it was, I attended a great school in New York, but I got to travel there for my interview, whereas many others didn't have that privilege, either. Parents who do this are telling their kids they aren't capable, that they're not enough, compounding the cheating with a terrible message. People who don't earn what they have often respect it less. I tell young people that, in general, it matters a lot less where you go than what you do when you get there."
While there are many forces in our culture making it harder to follow through on my above suggestions, such as the powerful multi-billion advertising machine that pushes consumerism, the influence of social media and reality television. Parents have more influence than they recognize especially if they begin to model the values that are important to their family when their children are quite young.
Please share with us your thoughts as well as your strategies for combatting "affluenza."